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A reader asks about how the UK government works

Tags: whip house vote

Last week, a reader, prairie123, responded to my post, ‘Brexit Chronicles: the parliamentary drama continues’:

This is very informative, I have been trying to learn more about this situation for a while now, but I have such a firm understanding of how US govt. works, that it’s a little tricky to figure out how British govt. does things. The questions (and shouting matches, etc) during the question portion of that even were insane! I thought there would be more decorum and manners… also the crossing of the floor by Lee – that must have been a BIG deal! He basically just switched parties, correct? Yikes. I hope Boris can win some back, but I have a feeling it’s just time to Vote some members out.

I do have some random questions, if could ask you CM: Does the UK have a set time for elections or is it random? Does the House of Lords get voted in/out? Is the majority/minority Whip jobs similar to US positions? When the UK joined the EU, did the people get to vote to decide that, or did the govt. just decide it was best? The EU is basically draining the economy of the UK, right? What other negative implications has being a part of the EU brought to the people of the UK, in other words what is so bad about the EU that you don’t like?

Ok, sorry to be a pest, but I really am curious about this. I know there is nothing I can do to help, but just keep Boris Johnson in my prayers and the people of Britain, I hope the politicians will actually do what they said they will do, which is the will of the people!

Thanks CM – have a great day!

I am most grateful to prairie123 for the questions. Answers follow.

That post discussed the now-former Conservative MP Phillip Lee crossing the floor of the House of Commons to the Liberal Democrats.

… that must have been a BIG deal! He basically just switched parties, correct?

Yes, and it is a big deal whenever it happens when MPs are in session. This was notable as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, also Conservative Party leader, was addressing Parliament at the time:

Does the UK have a set time for elections or is it random?

It used to be more random until the Fixed Term Parliaments Act — FTPA — became law in 2011.

When David Cameron (Conservative) became Prime Minister after the May 2010 election, there was a hung Parliament, with no clear Conservative majority. The Conservatives had 306 MPs and the Liberal Democrats 57 MPs. The Conservatives had to go into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, led at that time by Nick Clegg. Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister.

The purpose of the FTPA was to ensure that neither of the coalition partners — the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats — could trigger a snap general election.

In principle, under the FTPA, general elections are now held every five years. In reality, Prime Minister Theresa May, David Cameron’s successor, was able to trigger one in 2017, even though the Conservatives won the 2015 election. (Opposition MPs said she had no mandate to deliver Brexit, and the election was seen as a way of giving her legitimacy.)

Under FTPA, Theresa May needed the Aye votes of two-thirds of sitting MPs in order to trigger an election. She got those votes, and the election went ahead in June 2017. Unfortunately, she came out with less of a majority than before the election.

PM Boris Johnson has tried twice in the past two weeks to trigger a general election. Unfortunately, although the Aye votes were overwhelming, they did not come from two-thirds of sitting MPs. Other MPs abstained or did not vote.

Does the House of Lords get voted in/out?

There is no public vote for members of the House of Lords.

The House of Lords used to be comprised of hereditary peers until Labour, under Tony Blair, enacted reforms between 1997 and 2010. The House of Lords Act 1999 retains only 92 hereditary peers among the Lords Temporal.

There are also Lords Spiritual who are members: 26 bishops from the Church of England.

The majority of the Lords Temporal are life peers who are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister or the House of Lords Appointments Commission.

There is no limit to the number of members of the House of Lords. It is the only upper house of bicameral government in the world to be larger than the lower house.

Are the majority/minority whip jobs similar to US positions?

Yes and no.

In the UK, a whip withdrawn from an MP means that the MP no longer represents his political party in Parliament, even though he can remain as a sitting MP. This is what happened to the rebel Conservative MPs last week. They became independents upon withdrawal of the Conservative whip.

Wikipedia explains:

In British politics, the chief whip of the governing party in the House of Commons is customarily appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury so that the incumbent, who represents the whips in general, has a seat and a voice in the Cabinet. By virtue of holding the office of Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, the government chief whip has an official residence at 12 Downing Street, although the chief whip’s office is currently located at 9 Downing Street. Government whips report to the prime minister on any possible backbench revolts and the general opinion of MPs within the party, and upon the exercise of the patronage, which is used to motivate and reward loyalty.

In the sense of ‘voting instructions’, there are three categories of whip in British politics that are issued on particular business. An expressed instruction on how to vote could constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege, so the party’s wishes are indicated unequivocally but indirectly. These whips are issued to MPs in the form of a letter outlining the parliamentary schedule, with a sentence such as “Your attendance is absolutely essential” next to each debate in which there will be a vote, underlined one, two or three times according to the severity of the whip:

    • A single-line whip is a guide to what the party’s policy would indicate, and notification of when the vote is expected to take place; this is non-binding for attendance or voting.
    • A two-line whip, sometimes known as a double-line whip, is an instruction to attend and vote; partially binding for voting according to the party’s position, attendance required unless prior permission given by the whip.
    • A three-line whip is a strict instruction to attend and vote according to the party’s position, breach of which would normally have serious consequences. Permission to not attend may be given by the whip, but a serious reason is needed. Breach of a three-line whip can lead to expulsion from the parliamentary political group in extreme circumstances, and even to expulsion from the party. Consequently, three-line whips are generally only issued on key issues, such as votes of confidence and supply.[citation needed] The nature of three-line whips and the potential punishments for revolt vary among parties and legislatures.

In the US, the whip has a similar function, but without the drastic consequences that are possible in the UK system:

Both houses of Congress, the House of Representatives and Senate, have majority and minority whips. They in turn have subordinate “regional” whips. While members of Congress often vote along party lines, the influence of the whip is weaker than in the UK system. American politicians generally have considerably more freedom to diverge from the party line and vote according to their own or their constituency’s conscience. One reason is that a considerable amount of money is raised by individual candidates. Furthermore, neither members of Congress, nor any other person, can be expelled from a political party, which are formed simply by open registration. In addition, because preselection of candidates for office is generally done through a primary election that is open to a wide number of voters, candidates who support their constituents’ political positions, rather than those of their party leaders, cannot easily be rejected by their party due to a democratic mandate.

Because members of Congress cannot serve simultaneously in Executive Branch positions, a whip in the United States cannot bargain for votes by using potential promotion or demotion in a sitting administration as an inducement. There is, however, a highly structured committee system in both houses of Congress, and a whip may be able to offer promotion or threaten demotion within that system instead. In the House of Representatives, the influence of a single member individually is relatively small and therefore depends a great deal on the representative’s seniority (i.e., in most cases, on the length of time they have held office).

In the Senate, the majority whip is the third-highest ranking individual in the majority party (the party with the most seats). The majority whip is outranked by the majority leader and, unofficially, the president pro tempore. As the office of president pro tempore is largely honorific and usually given to the longest-serving senator of the majority, the majority whip is in reality the second-ranking senator in the majority conference. Similarly, in the House, the majority whip is outranked by both the majority leader and the speaker. Unlike the Senate’s presiding officer, the Speaker is the leader of his or her party’s caucus in the House.

In both the House and the Senate, the minority whip is the second highest-ranking individual in the minority party (the party with the lesser number of legislators in a legislative body), outranked only by the minority leader.

When the UK joined the EU, did the people get to vote to decide that, or did the govt. just decide it was best?

In the 1960s, the Government had made repeated applications to join the European Common Market — purely a trading bloc without much of today’s bureaucracy — and the UK was finally accepted in 1969.

It took three years to work out the terms, and on January 1, 1972, the UK joined the EC (European Community), along with Denmark and Ireland.

Some Labour MPs disapproved of the terms of the treaty and thought that the matter should be taken to the public in a referendum, and this was part of the Labour Party’s manifesto for the 1974 election, which they won.

The referendum was held in 1975. The Conservatives supported EC membership, and Labour MPs were still divided. Tony Benn was deeply concerned about how EC membership would eventually erode the UK’s sovereignty as a nation. (Today, his grandson Hilary holds the opposite view.)

Yes won by 67.23% of the vote, with a turnout of 64.62%.

You can read more at the following links: History of European Union-United Kingdom relations and 1975 United Kingdom European Communities membership referendum.

The EU is basically draining the economy of the UK, right?

Not really, however, we could be using the annual contributions we make to the EU for our own nation.

What EU membership has done is weaken our manufacturing over the years (details in this post).

As for contributions, we are second behind Germany. We are a net contributor, meaning that we send more to the EU every year than we get back.

On June 1, 2019, the Express reported:

In 2017, the UK was the second largest contributor with €7.43bn (£6.55bn), just behind Germany at €12.8bn (£11.2bn).

Britain will remain a member of the EU until its departure has been negotiated and will continue to contribute to the EU budget until it formally leaves.

On the other end, Poland was the biggest net recipient of the EU budget (getting more back than it contributed in the first place), followed by Greece, Romania, Hungary and Portugal.

Regardless of their ability to contribute, the 27 countries are able to vote on EU policies equally. Is it advisable that countries who sap from the EU coffers receive an equal vote on everything?

On May 29, the BBC published a good analysis of how EU contributions are spent and where they go. As their article explains, figures can be looked at in a few ways.

First, on the poorer countries:

The EU spends the money on a wide range of projects, but about three quarters of the budget every year goes to two main areas: agriculture and development of poorer areas of the EU.

So, poorer countries and those with a lot of farms get more.

Poland was the biggest net recipient of the EU budget (getting more back than it contributed in the first place), followed by Greece, Romania, Hungary and Portugal.

Luxembourg and Belgium, two of the richest EU countries, are also on the list of EU budget net recipients, because they receive a high proportion of the funding for administration as many EU institutions, such as the Commission and the European Parliament, are based there.

Secondly, on the contributions, whilst the BBC quotes the same German and British contribution figures as the Express article, when one analyses the contributions per person, a different picture emerges:

The largest net contributor to the EU budget per capita is the Netherlands, followed by Sweden, Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom in fifth place, with €112.85 in 2017.

Thirdly, the placement differs again, albeit slightly, when one looks at the contributions in terms of GDP:

The Netherlands pays the biggest proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP) – a measure of the amount produced in an economy in a year. In 2017, its contribution to the EU budget was 0.47% of its GDP.

Germany is second on this list, followed by Sweden and the UK, in fourth place, with 0.32% of GDP contributed in 2017.

As for our final ‘divorce’ settlement, a page on Parliament’s website has excellent information, in part:

The UK will remain a member of the EU until its departure has been negotiated and will continue to contribute to the EU budget until it formally leaves …

The UK Government costs the settlement at around £35 billion-£39 billion. However, the true cost will not be known until all the future payments have been made …

The UK Government says that it may pay to participate in some EU programmes after Brexit. For instance, the UK might contribute to remain in Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation programme. Exit negotiations will determine the extent of the UK’s future participation in EU programmes and any cost.

What other negative implications has being a part of the EU brought to the people of the UK, in other words what is so bad about the EU that you don’t like?

The main issue is loss of national sovereignty.

Hilary Benn, the Labour MP who has been running serious interference against Brexit, had a grandfather who felt quite the opposite. The late Tony Benn was a legendary Labour MP. Whilst I did not agree with most of his views, his 1975 prediction about membership in the EU came true. He warned that we would lose our sovereignty bit by bit, which we did. He also warned that once in, we would find it very difficult to leave. And so it is proving. I wish he were still alive to talk to his grandson about this issue.

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I hope this answers some of your questions, prairie123. Thank you very much for your moral support for those of us who wish to leave!



This post first appeared on Churchmouse Campanologist | Ringing The Bells For, please read the originial post: here

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